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Friday, March 5, 2010


I am perennially fascinated by people who are dedicated. For example, visit this site. Look at those pictures. You can't, of course, if you didn't visit the site. If you haven't, do it now. Really. I can't go on until you do, because I am going to write about the images at that site. Done now? Good.

That man is dedicated. Devoted. Imagine the number of hours he had to spend developing the necessary skills to assemble Lego bricks into such phenomenal shapes. Such compelling images. Prior to applying artistic skill to the unusual medium of Lego bricks he had to develop his skills and sensibilities in art. Prior to that I imagine he had some natural drive or compulsion toward art in the first place.

I have put a few bricks together, though I am old enough not to have grown up with Lego bricks as part of the structure of my youth. This man has taken that childhood experience and nominal skill to a level few could imagine. That, of course, is why his work is interesting, compelling, and special.

Mary Engelbreit began drawing and coloring her drawings in her childhood. She continued into adulthood, eventually creating an art empire which had a solid period of success as a business. Dedicated. Focussed. She knew what she loved, she did it, and even did well by it.

I have been to only one ballet. It was an unusual ballet, in that baseball players from the Oakland Athletics baseball team performed a few bit parts in the production of The Nutcracker Suite. I noticed the bodies of the dancers, the physical conditioning that was necessary to achieve that level of power and control. Different from, yet similar to, the physical conditioning of the ball players. Athletes all, yet motivated differently.

Of course, some of my observations were motivated by my own area of expertise. As a correctional officer it was occasionally necessary to physically restrain people. That is a polite way to say that I occasionally had to fight people. So, I was constantly evaluating people for indications of how I might do that well. Part of such an evaluation was assessing physical conditioning and how they moved.

I would not want to fight a professional ball player. Most of them are large and have intimidating bodies. However, after watching the ballet dancers, I absolutely would not want to fight any of them. Male or female. They are physically less imposing, but from watching them I knew that the speed, strength and control they presented in the art of dance could transfer quickly and efficiently into affective combat.

Dedication. Baseball and ballet. Consider the hours necessary to master either in order to become a professional. The emotional investment, the devotion of resources.

Then there is music. I met a fellow named Billy Crockett at a small venue concert. His concert. He is a very good artist on the guitar. So good that Eric Clapton recognized him as a peer, or so I heard from a friend in the music business. Crockett never achieved the level of international recognition of Clapton, but if it is true that Clapton recognized a peer in Crockett, it is indeed high praise.

Devotion, dedication, commitment. The investment of time and energy. The investment of blood, sweat, and tears. I find it fascinating, probably because I have never been that driven, compelled, or focussed. The brevity of life and the breadth of my interests has compelled me to explore, sample, and contemplate. I have touched on various arts and skills and experienced enough to appreciate the devotion necessary to become the very best.

Of course, such devotion can have a price. Take Kenny Rogers as an example. He has achieved considerable success over several decades as a singer and song writer, and several other aspects of the entertainment industry. Devoted. He has been married five times. His first marriage was literally sacrificed for the sake of his career. I suspect the same may have been the case for the other failed marriages, as well.

I do not present Rogers as an object to be ridiculed. His personal life and his relationships are his responsibility. My point is simply that the object of devotion and the subsequent acts of devotion demand sacrifice. Time, money, energy, and many other aspects of life are sacrificed for the object of devotion. Some devotees are better at balancing the commitment, some not so much so.

Back to baseball, during the era in which I attended the baseball ballet blending in The Nutcracker Suite. An unfortunate number of those baseball players were so devoted to the art of baseball that they violated rules, regulations and laws to use steroids to enhance their performances. Another price of devotion, perhaps a price too high.

How about devotion to family? Can this, too, be taken to such extremes as to be unbalanced and therefore counter-productive? I believe so. Parents can often become so committed as to sacrifice proper care of themselves, and suffer deterioration of mental or physical health as a consequence. Such devotion is unbalanced, and a failure to achieve the goal of providing well for the family.

Then there is the pinnacle of devotion, devotion to God. A saying in the evangelical church; "It is better to burn out for God than to rust out." Perhaps that is true, but isn't a long, well-balanced life of devotion worth more than either?

Devotion is a very worthy mental state. Commitment is important, and can enrich the life of the devotee and the lives of others. However, devotion must be balanced by wisdom and a commitment to wholeness. We cannot all be shining stars, nor should we all wish to be. Striving to do well in our assumed and assigned responsibilities can be devotion enough.

The adulation and respect of the multitudes is not a bad thing. Better, by far, is a well founded sense of your own value and a respect for yourself.

Devotion is a choice. Choose wisely. Choose well.


Laura said...

Wow...People like that Lego artist leave me speachless.
Same does ballet. And ice skating. Not only beacause of the sheer grace and the beauty of the moves, but mostly because I keep thinking how incredibly difficult it is to make it seem so easy.

"Sweat, blood and tears" said it so well. That's why musicians always fascinated me. So much work, practice, constant exercise...I respect them to no end. That's what motivated me to write an entire book about one of them.(Steve Perry)

As hard as it is to achieve excellence, I believe that devotion is natural when you have the calling for what you do.
I don't think that a ballerina wakes up in the morning thinking "Ugh...I hate going to practice again".

It's all about truly loving what you do...The devotion comes with that.
I don't know how much is too much to sacrifice for what you are devoted too. I guess it depends on each person and their principles.

Thought-provoking post, Michael.

Jerry said...

I've often watched a true artisan and marveled at the dedication and infinite patience involved. And I have been envious of such focus and pride and the sense of accomplishment. It has made me evaluate myself...what is the product of my life...where is my painting, my musical composition, my creation that I can point to.

Soon that I realize that I don't have that patience and dedication. While I admire those that do, I have come to understand that I cannot lock onto one thing. If I did, I would be deprived of so much else.

Excellent, thoughtful post.

Michael Lockridge said...

One thing I have thought long and often about is being an appreciative audience or aficionado. Becoming somewhat knowledgeable in a field allows a deeper appreciation for the art and the artist.

Having attempted something it is easier to fully appreciate the work of the masters.